"Trial & Error" First Look Review: Murder in Littletown, USA

Chad White

Trial & Error
“Pilot” and “A Wrench in the Case”
Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2

This is a First Look Review of NBC’s Trial & Error starring Nick D’Agosto, John Lithgow, Jayma Mays and Sherri Shepherd.

Big crime in a small town.

Once the leader in network comedy, NBC has fallen behind the pack. It’s been going on for years; they lost their place in the early 2000’s and haven’t gotten anywhere close to where they were since. There have been hits in shows like The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation but, by and large, NBC hasn’t been able to topple the likes of ABC, Fox or CBS. With The Good Place, they hit really high marks. The show came from NBC collaborator Mike Schur. It’s funny, dark, enticing and more. Over the course of thirteen episodes, it quickly became one of the best shows of last year. Now NBC is trying the comedy game again with Trial & Error -- a self-stated comedy anthology. Each season is said to take on a different case. For now, the initial case is a murder mystery with the appropriate twists and turns. But is it worth a watch?

Boasting a diverse cast, Trial & Error takes up similar attributes of past NBC shows. It has the mockumentary aspect of The Office; it’s filled with unknowns and supporting actors a la The Good Place; it doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, aiming for jokes over story much like 30 Rock. None of those are negatives in any definition of the word. In fact, it helps to have two big names in Sherri Shepherd and John Lithgow working alongside relatively unknown Nick D’Agosto and full-time unknown Steven Boyer. The cast is as quirky as later seasons of Parks and Rec but, sadly, the script doesn’t match.

Often times, jokes fall way too flat. And Shepherd’s forced unconventional diseases (face blindness, short term memory) are tired and only impede on the story. Speaking of, D’Agosto is a junior lawyer on assignment in a small town to help get Lithgow off from his murder trial. He was accused of killing his wife but he’s clueless as to who actually committed the crime. Every step of the way, there’s an action or event that hinders or helps the situation. A lot of them are funny like Lithgow’s excuse for not hearing his wife scream is that he was rollersizing. The jokes is recycled over and over and it’s so stupid. And yet it gets funnier because he’s a simple, well mannered guy who is entirely clueless to his situation. It’s elements like that that help Trial.

Then there’s the rest of the script. Almost every scene has an ex machina. Twists are reminiscent of a bad M. Night Shyamalan movie. It doesn’t help that these happen in most episodes, closer to the later half. These twists are lazy and predictable. There’s no point in relishing on them. As for direction, it’s fine. Creators Jeff Astrof and Matt Miller took over directorial duties for the first two episodes. The only way to equate their style here is that they saw a bunch of The Office and Parks and Rec and decided to up the documentary part of mockumentary. Shaky cams, people asking about cameras, chyrons, and talking heads are used and overused. Imagine if Jim made a Jim look at the camera every other shot and you’d be in the right area for describing the show’s style.

Should you watch Trial & Error?

There’s a lot to like and not like here. The cast is good but the writing is often weak. However, the story is weird enough to bare a lot of annoying habits.